Sleeping in the cold on the Leavey Esplanade while in the middle of a 24-hour fast, Liz Walley (NHS ’06), tried to imagine what it might be like to be homeless.

Many students groaned the next morning about cold feet and waking up from the chill at 4:30 a.m. By 8 a.m., while most of Georgetown remained slumbering in warm beds, participants of the Just One Day poverty awareness event headed off to service projects in mobile soup kitchens, women’s shelters and food banks.

“I just want to learn more about something that’s not really talked about. I don’t want to be ignorant,” Walley said.

The Just One Day event attempted to understand the struggle of those who are homeless and who have no food – their social isolation and material deprivation.

“800,000 people will experience homelessness tonight,” Jesse White, an AmeriCorp Volunteer with the National Coalition for the Homeless, said during Friday night’s events.

One of the main myths about homelessness, White said, is that people believe it is a personal choice. Noting that one in every three Americans is just one paycheck away from being homeless, White said that Americans should acknowledge this problem that infiltrates their streets.

“The whole idea of Just One Day is to try to gain new perspectives on the issues and to try to understand the causes and effects of poverty and homelessness,” Logan Kendall (SFS ’06) said. Kendall and fellow sophomore Megan Liddle (SFS ’06) served as the event’s coordinators, working with a team of nine dedicated students since September to organize the speakers and activities. In only its second year of existence, Just One Day has quickly grown in the number of participants and earned a reputation as a worthwhile event.

Three individuals illustrated the details of their plight through their life stories, memories, regrets and hopes on a Faces of Homelessness Panel sponsored by the Speakers Bureau, an organization that promotes awareness about the homeless by showcasing speakers who have lived on the streets.

“I am 47 years old and for the first time in my life,” panelist George Siletti said, “I have direction.”

A troubled foster child, Siletti said he was expelled from a boys’ home on Long Island at the age of 16. The cold weather drove him south, to a life of hitchhiking and day labor pools.

“I thought I would create a life for myself, but I couldn’t bring myself up,” he said.

Siletti said he was later diagnosed with depression due in part to his inability to adjust to mainstream society and was directed to a program for drug rehabilitation and life skill education. Today, Siletti said he has been free of drugs and alcohol for 10 years, and enjoys working to help his “brothers and sisters on the street.”

After six months on a waitlist, Siletti finally got into a shelter last week, where he said he can receive mental health guidance and case management services.

Patricia Hensy’s experience highlighted another aspect of homelessness – a lack of affordable housing. A resident of Boston at a time of recession, Hensy said her apartment underwent seven separate rent increases. After experiencing severe headaches, she was placed on medication, yet wasn’t told that the drug could inhibit her ability to read.

Consequently, she lost her job as a proofreader. As the recession forced Congress to make cutbacks in social services, Hensy found herself cut off and homeless. Now, she resides in the Community for Creative Nonviolence shelter and has become an involved activist for the homeless population.

“I guess you can stay there as long as you don’t get thrown out, but I don’t want to,” she said. “I want to find a way out . it’s just one day at a time. I take them as they come.”

Panelist Pierre Valdez-Lewis said he now works as a day laborer while staying at a shelter. Yet, while he said he believes a structured family life could have altered his situation, Valdez-Lewis assumes responsibility for his decisions, admitting he doesn’t feel sorry for himself.

“I still have hope for the future,” he said, “I still have dreams, I put one foot in front of the other.”

After 24 hours of challenging mind and body experiences, participants said they felt that the event had succeeded in creating an atmosphere of understanding.

“That was one of our goals – to form a community for the exchange of ideas,” Liddle said.

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